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Kick ‘Em While They’re Down: Toronto FC vs Chicago Fire, MLS Week 9 game preview

Harden your hearts, Men in Red, increase Toronto’s woe

Soccer: Concacaf Champions League-Toronto FC at Guadalajara Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Fire come upon Toronto FC like the victims in a fresh crime scene, pitiable in their weakness, their wagon flipped and ransacked, their goods spread across the still-frozen Ontario soil, weeping, holding out their hands in supplication or tending wounds barely stabilized after the trauma of Wednesday night in Guadalajara.

So it’s left for the Fire to harden their hearts - more than that, to find that cruel and sadistic sliver within themselves that delights in dominating - and add to Toronto’s woes. Ignore the little voice that pipes up (“They’re so little! Take it easy!”) when TFC fields a couple of teenagers in the starting lineup; savage those children to teach them the natural order of things. Stop up every outlet for kindness.

There’s no pity in sports. When you can make things worse for your foes, you do. There’s a nonzero chance to tip this whole teetering Toronto FC death-star right into the dumpster - they’re exhausted, mentally and physically, have won nothing, and now are last in the league. Let’s make it worse.

Looking for motivation? TFC have won six in a row against us. SIX. They beat the Fire twice last year, and we were a better side then.

CF97 all-time record v Toronto FC: 9 wins, 8 draws, 9 losses; 41 GF, 42 GAi; 35 points out of 78.

CF97 road record v Toronto FC: 4 wins, 3 draws, 7 losses; 24 GF, 28 GA; 15 points out of 42.

Previously On

Probable starters

For the Fire, fresh off a robust smash-and-grab performance in New York, the starting XI will probably be as close to unchanged as possible. Look for this lineup to remain fairly stable until some of the injured starters (Polster, Solignac) get healthy in the later stages of May.

Almost any lineup is believable for Toronto FC, who travelled home across the continent early Thursday morning after a soul-crushing defeat. We’re going with the MLS Soccer dot com predicted starters, because why not.

CF97 injury report: OUT: D - Jorge Corrales (infection), F - Michael de Leeuw (left ACL), M - Djorjde Mihailovic (right ACL), M - Matt Polster (right MCL), F - Luis Solignac (left quad)

TFC injury report: OUT: D - Nick Hagglund (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: M - Victor Vazquez (back spasms); PROBABLE: D - Chris Mavinga (abdominal discomfort), D - Gregory van der Wiel (Achilles), F - Jozy Altidore (foot), D - Justin Morrow (calf strain), D - Drew Moor (undisclosed)

Scouting this matchup

Punch them in the face: The fact that the hosts will likely start a hybrid XI means that the Fire will have a chance to establish control over the mentality of the match. If the Men in Red open the game ready to play on the front foot, they can take TFC’s younger players out of the game - if the kids start looking like they’re on skates, just behind the play, it’s working.

Ride the hot keeper: The long-term bet Nelson Rodriguez and Velko Paunovic put on Richard Sanchez looks to be paying off already. Sanchez’s 8-save performance showed a keeper with strong hands and quick feet, but more than that, a confident guy whose game seems to be blossoming right before our eyes. If he can avoid the kind of weird-bounce howler that guts his confidence, Sanchez can be very very good.

Stability, stability, stability: The Fire need to settle into a mentality and a shape, and they seem to have found both - counter-punching pragmatists, with Basti marshalling the backline, Dax rasping out instructions in the middle, and NikoKatai looking dangerous on the odd chance. Let’s stay with that.

Bring the filth: This isn’t a Fire team built to play pretty football - there’s just too many try-hard pieces in there. But we have ways ... of making ... it through. Arts darker than those taught at your precious academy. A pair of shorts, pulled subtly. A rabbit-punch to the kidney. A tendency to manufacture conflict. We should not disdain these tools. As our Red Stars desk says - embrace the #ScamGang.

How To Watch

When: Saturday, April 28, at 2 p.m. CDT, from BMO Field in Toronto, Ontario

TV: CTV, if you’ve got access to Canadian TV

Stream: ESPN+

Radio: WRTO 1200 AM (Spanish)